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Western Media Tries To Wave Al-Qaeda Flag In Mali – OpEd

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By Ramin Mazaheri

Here’s something you will rarely read in coverage of the Mali separatists, who have declared independence: They disavow any claims made by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that the two movements are allied.

What you will read, constantly, is that Islamic militants are imposing Sharia all over northern Mali! Catholics fear for their lives! Thieves will soon have their hands cut off!

That’s because what is going in Mali is complicated, certainly, but the West’s cries of “spreading Islamic terrorism” is just another example of their preferred propaganda campaign, which is aimed at bending the public’s fear to their corporate will.

If you could read the word “Tuareg” just half as much as you find “al-Qaeda”, the situation in Mali wouldn’t be so confusing because the most important fact to accept is this: The nomadic Tuaregs, who practice a moderate Sufism mixed with pre-Islam animism, who have agitated for independence for a century, have finally seen the tide turn in their favor.

This statement of fact only seeks to accept reality and makes no judgment. Tides turn – that’s what they do.

Presented this way, it becomes clear what we have in Mali is not fanaticism but civil war, and any civil war is the product of decades and even centuries of titanic forces moving slowly but inexorably.

And we will not be surprised to learn what is truly at the heart of Mali’s problems, because it’s the same problem that exists in Palestine, in Pakistan, in Iraq and elsewhere: national borders that bear no resemblance to reality because they were drawn by Western colonialist invaders. Mali is obviously misshapen, with a vast chunk of the southern Sahara affixed to Inner Niger Delta panhandle.

But admitting culpability in 2012 definitely won’t increase the influence of Western powers, as it would compel them to stop intervening because they’ve already caused so much damage.

That’s why if you read the words of the UN Security Council, or top Western diplomats, or the leaders of France, Mali’s former colonial master, what we have is very cut and dried: Mali’s biggest problem is a spreading Islamic threat.

For fun, let’s ignore our key first fact – that the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad denies any links with religious extremists: The estimated membership of the al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, an Algerian Salafist group, is a few hundred members.

Would a few hundred fighters really be able to hijack a century of thwarted independence movements by the Tuareg people, who number 6 million and are spread all over the Sahara, in Mali, Niger, Libya and Algeria?

Would thousands of battle-hardened nomads, who have staffed regional armies for decades as well as both sides in Libya’s recent civil war, really require such assistance?

Unlikely. And if we care to look we’ll find much simpler explanations.

The fact is the West may have created the Tuaregs’ statelessness but they have also created their solutions.

By invading Libya and deposing their longtime benefactor, Gadaffi, the Tuaregs have nowhere to go. If they don’t find, or make, a safe haven they will go the way of the Kurds, or the Roma or any number of large minorities that are extinct, stateless or generally despised.

And by breaking a UN resolution and illegally airlifting 40 tons of weapons from France to Libyan revolutionaries, the Tuaregs were able to get their hands on top munitions (Immediately after the airlift Jean Ping, the chairman of the African Union, warned that these weapons would be used to destabilize African nations – he was right.).

All of this has combined with the very real poverty and weakness of Mali, which is far removed from the golden days of Timbuktu but is still the continent’s 3rd-largest gold producer and also believed to possess untapped quantities of uranium and oil.

Since independence from France in 1960, Mali – formerly known as French Sudan – has had one of the most solid democratic records in West Africa. They even made noble efforts to break with France and go on their own, but an extended drought in the 1960s and 1970s drew them back into “Françafrique”, the term given to the incestuous relationship between France and their former colonies.

But democracy and social justice don’t always go hand in hand, and compounding Mali’s problems has been its role as a major transportation hub for drugs from Latin America on their way to Europe. Add that to the corporate corruption France employs so effectively across West Africa and it is little wonder why ousted President Toure is in hiding and not being openly demanded by Mali’s 15 million voters.

It’s amusing that France is now demanding constitutional order, when so often France has subverted or severed many revolutionary nationalist movements in Africa. Most recently in West Africa they have installed Alassane Ouattara, one of Sarkozy’s closest friends, in Ivory Coast and shipped his rival Laurent Gbagbo to the Hague, mainly for the crime of demanding a recount for a very close vote.

Only a hardened neo-colonist wouldn’t agree that non-intervention in Mali is the best stance in this early stage, but the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – the latter a western puppet (currently headed by Ouattara) and the former ignored by the West (refer to the NATO war in Libya) – are set to impose an economic embargo on a landlocked country already teetering on a hunger crisis.

The situation in Mali is already one full of fear and instability – much like a civil war – so it’s important to admit that these sanctions the so-called West African leaders aren’t taken with a view to the benefit of the average Malian. The sanctions are being ordered by the West who, as usual, seems to have no idea about the actual facts on the ground where they are meddling.

But meddle they will, yet the situation in Mali is so degraded the Western powers have to start with restoring a compliant puppet in Mali, which is why French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has promised “logistical support” to ECOWAS to send 3,000 troops to southern Mali. Of course, what this means is French generals will direct operations, which will use French supplies, but it is West African soldiers that will pull triggers (in all public operations).

It seems unlikely that once imperial order is restored – excuse me, constitutional order – that the Tuaregs won’t be next.

The level of Malian support for the junta is not easy to gauge, but there have been protests in favor of the military leaders and not for the return of Toure and his French-allied oligarchy. The absence of demonstrations speaks volumes as to what the Malian people want because the Tuareg separatists control the sparsely populated eastern end of the Malian bow-tie, so it’s not as if it would have been difficult to organize demonstrations in favor of Toure.

Talk is cheap, but the fact is the military is giving many signs that this is not some power grab: The military junta says it has reinstated the constitution and announced a national convention.

But their national convention was cancelled, mainly because most of Mali’s political parties refused to participate. However, most of these parties are allied with Toure. In fact, most parties are allied with Toure because patronage in Mali is rampant, which has caused the nation’s vast inequality and degradation. When people say that Mali has been a stable democracy this is by the low standards of West Africa, so let’s not imagine that political parties in Africa are paragons of virtue.

So the military leaders have tried to hold an open political debate, but the Malian political elite turned it down.

The junta has promised presidential elections, though no date given, in which the junta leaders would be barred from participating. That’s either proof of their good faith or a savvy propaganda move.

The military has even called for outside military intervention to fight the Tuaregs, which admits that they have no chance against the rebels. But a military coup that wants to establish a firm hold generally doesn’t invite outside troops in their country.

So the junta, totally opposed by the outside world, is doing many things which permit us to consider the possibility that they may be acting on behalf of the average Malian.

Many will find it difficult to support a military coup, but if you claim to support non-intervention – if you want Malians to decide their own fate – than you have little choice but to hope that the military junta proves worthy of its name: the National Committee of Adjustment of Democracy and Restoration of the State (CNRDRE).

We should remember the Egyptian army played the indispensable in safeguarding the Egyptian revolution. It was their determined inaction, which is a form of action, that expelled a corrupt government, which is what many Malians believe they have in the Western-backed Toure.

Having taken Azawad region, the Tuareg leadership has indicated it has no plans to move south. Western leaders are screaming about the necessity of preserving Mali’s territorial integrity, which is laughable, but what needs to be known are the wishes of the Malian people.

But that would take a referendum or some type of convention, and that would take law and order being provided by someone in a very unstable place, preferably by a group composed of Malians…see where this is going?

While Mali tries to get back on the democratic track, the Tuaregs face an even more uphill battle. It appears likely that the Tuaregs will have no real sympathy in France, which likely views them as an actor which is upsetting the balance of West African power they so assiduously try to keep tilted in their favor.

Backing the junta in Mali, just like trusting the Egyptian army in the early days of Liberation Square, is perhaps counter-intuitive. But like in Egypt, the Malian military merits the benefit of the doubt until they cross over to violence and repression, and the primary reason for that is the hunger and immediate material needs of the Malian people.

For those who claim to have all the answers in Mali, just one more question: Should the long-marginalized Tuaregs, with their own culture and language, lose out on an independent state because a majority of Malian voters now realize that the Tuaregs have been travelling across untapped wealth?

It’s said that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and if in the previous millennia the nomadic Tuaregs were willing to give up that right it seems likely they have permanently changed their tune.

But, above all, in Mali we must stop with the uninformed and reactionary fiction that religious extremists are calling the shots when it’s clear these marginal players are only trying to piggy-back on the success of the Tuaregs, because the West will be more than happy to oblige such knee-jerk distortions.

Press TV

Press TV is a 24-hour English language global news network owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Its headquarters are located in Tehran, Iran. Press TV carries news analysis, documentary talk shows and sports news worldwide with special focus on West Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

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